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New Budget Slashes $85 Million From Illinois Child Welfare, Governor Calls Cuts ‘Unacceptable’

Illinois lawmakers have approved a budget that could lead to layoffs in the state’s troubled Department of Children and Family Services (DCFS) and reduce programs that have helped keep kids out of foster care. Governor Pat Quinn called the cuts “unacceptable” and could make changes before signing the budget by the July 1 deadline. The Associated Press reports:

The scaled-down approximately $1.2 billion budget would cut some $27 million from personnel – eliminating about 375 positions, or roughly 12 percent of the nearly 3,000 department employees.

The timing is particularly troubling as the agency is also under fire for being unstaffed in critical areas.

The department admitted this year that it was in violation of a 1991 consent decree that settled a class-action lawsuit brought by the ACLU.

Overall, the budget would shave $85 million in funding from DCFS, which has contact with about 150,000 children annually. DCFS Director Richard Calica feels the cuts will have a negative impact on his department’s ability to serve the children and families of Illinois:

“The safety net that we’ve provided for the community has been eroded based on what the people of Illinois have allocated to our work,” Calica, who took over in December, told The Associated Press.

Major reforms–such as reducing the number of children in foster care by more than 35,000–could be negated by this budget, according to local Union officials:

“That is totally unacceptable and amounts to turning back the clock and rolling back progress that has been made over the last two decades,” said Anders Lindall, a spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31.

Even the politicians who drew up the budget admit that they have taken drastic measures to address the state’s ongoing financial crisis:

“The state of Illinois has very little money to spend. We really are a state in dire fiscal situation,” said state Rep. Sara Feigenholtz, a Chicago Democrat who was on the committee that set spending. “We have done some dire things in this budget.”

Given that DCFS is already in violation of its decree with the ACLU, there is concern over what these cuts could mean for a system already struggling to meet its obligations. Calica saidthat he expects the number of children in foster care to rise, which has child advocates speaking out on the negative consequences of unnecessary foster care placement:

“You’re removing the child from his family and putting him in substitute care, we don’t want to do that when we don’t have to,” said Margaret Berglind, president of the Child Care Association of Illinois. “The child, no matter what may have happened, is still bonded with that family.”